Bonn: Climate engineering is risky, but should be explored, experts say at UN conference
16 November 2017 Climate engineering, or climate intervention, is risky but needs to be explored as a supplement – not as a ‘Plan B’ – to greenhouse gas emissions reduction, said experts at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23), in Bonn, Germany.
Climate engineering, also referred to as geoengineering, is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the climate system with measures including carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere or solar radiation management.
“We can do a lot, we have to do a lot, we have to try much harder at cutting our emissions, but there will remain certain emissions, especially in the land use sector, which are not going away. So we actually need to start talking about this removal of greenhouse gases inevitably,” said Matthias Honegger, research scientist with the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, at a press conference.
Different approaches are being discussed. Some already exist, like planting trees. Other ideas include dispersing certain minerals in the oceans to enhance the growth of algae, which then as they sink to the ocean floor, would create a net flux of carbon from the atmosphere into the oceans.
“Business as usual is a little worrying,” said Dr. Hugh Hunt, from the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University. “The concept of not doing anything is full of danger. Now the concept of cooling the planet is full of danger as well.”
“We need to have full-on public engagement, full-on societal involvement. The reason is that the risks of climate change are huge, the risks of doing nothing are huge; but the risks of geoengineering are huge as well. We’ve got to explore those risks, because who knows, we may end up entering a very risky world without understanding it,” he added. “Geoengineering risks are not well understood and need to be explored.”
Stratospheric aerosol injection
Due to the great uncertainties over effectiveness and side effects of climate engineering – including the risk of disrupting natural systems – experts think that there is a need to discuss climate engineering governance, especially as it relates to stratospheric aerosol injection.
Stratospheric aerosol injection consists of injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere with aircraft or balloons to create a global dimming effect.
“This technology is absolutely terrifying. We may actually need it, but then, who do we want to decide. That’s where this society-wide discussion has to take place,” said Janos Pasztor, Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2), and former UN senior climate advisor. “It would require a level of international cooperation that we have not yet seen.”
“Who will decide whether we should make use of stratospheric aerosol injection and when that decision should take place? […] Who will make that decision on behalf of the world? And then how far do we turn the thermostat of the global air conditioning system […] to cool the planet?” he said.
“There are issues: the more temperature you want to reduce the higher the chance there will be negative impact and the higher the chance that some of these impacts will not be the same across different geographical zones. You might end up in a situation where some people benefit from the reduced temperature but some people would have negative impacts. What do you do with those people? How do you compensate them? How do you take care of them?” he added.
Mr. Pasztor concluded that the highest priority should remain the gas emission reduction. “But we have to consider these other options, as supplements, not as a ‘Plan B,’” he warned.
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Bonn: UN chief urges more ambition, leadership and partnerships on climate action
15 November 2017 Addressing the United Nations Climate Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres called for more ambition, more leadership and more partnerships to tackle climate change.
“Our duty – to each other and to future generations – is to raise ambition,” said Mr. Guterres at the opening of the high-level segment of COP23, which was also attended by Heads of State and Government, including President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarana, who is also the President of COP23.
“We need to do more on five ambition action areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership,” the Secretary-General added.
The Bonn Conference, which opened on 6 November 2017, is taking place one year after the entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Agreement, which was adopted by the 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015, calls on countries to combat climate change by limiting the rise of global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius and strive not to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Today, 170 Parties have ratified the treaty.
Regarding emissions reductions, the UN chief urged countries “to use the 2020 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to close the 2030 emissions gap.”
He also stressed how essential climate mitigation is, calling for adaptation measures and strengthening resilience. The Green Climate Fund can play a catalytic role in this regard. He appealed to its members, especially donor nations, to reinvigorate engagement with that vital finance mechanism.
The world should adopt a simple rule: If big infrastructure projects aren’t green, they shouldn’t be given the green light. Otherwise we will be locked into bad choices for decades to come UN chief Guterres
As greater ambition on emissions, adaptation and resilience “is inextricably linked to funding,” the Secretary-General stressed the need “to mobilize the agreed $100 billion annually for developing countries.”
“We must stop making bets on an unsustainable future that will place savings and societies at risk,” he added, stressing that “if we add the economic benefits of avoiding the devastation of climate change impacts, gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050 would soar by 5 per cent.”
“The world should adopt a simple rule: If big infrastructure projects aren’t green, they shouldn’t be given the green light. Otherwise we will be locked into bad choices for decades to come. Investing in climate-friendly development is where the smart money is needed,” Mr. Guterres said.
The Secretary-General stressed that more ambition required action coalitions across all key sectors and by all actors. “We must engage all actors – national, regional and local governments, philanthropists and investors and consumers – in the transformation to a low-emission economy,” he said.
As for political leadership, Mr. Guterres encouraged countries to be bold in their deliberations and decisions in Bonn and at home. “Show wisdom in investing in the opportunities of the future. Show compassion in caring what kind of world we build for our children,” he stated.
Also addressing the COP23 High-Level segment, the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, reminded participants that “the decisions we make today will affect not only us – but also those who come after.”
He added: “If we hand over a planet with an uncertain future, history will not forgive us.”
For his part, Mr. Guterres welcomed a series of summits and conferences on climate change which are scheduled ahead of the UN Climate Summit in September 2019, including the ‘One Planet summit’ to be convened by France next month and focusing on financing, a gathering in California, bringing together non-State actors, and the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.
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